By Holly Pellham Davis
Here come the moans and groans of waking early as we start a new school year. Blurry-eyed kiddos stumble out of bed, wondering why school has to start so e-a-r-l-y; what’s for breakfast; and where the mate to their favorite pair of shoes is? But that doesn’t have to be the run down du jour. We can change the course of the day by implementing a few keys that will unlock the doors to a successful day for all.
If there is anything I have learned through years of studying wellness and using my own two children as “lab rats” it is we all need: to prepare well, to sleep well, and to eat well. Let’s break it down…
1. Prepare Well
Preparation has several different components:
- Be organized. Teach your kids how to keep their tools and materials in order. Have them list assignments, responsibilities, and deadlines on a handy, durable calendar that can easily be referred to every day and night.
- Get it together the night before. Homework papers, signed papers to return to school, after school bags for dance, soccer etc. They can even prepare a small snack for the next day by washing an apple ahead of time and putting a tablespoon of nut butter into a stainless or glass container so that they next morning all they do is grab it out of the fridge. I also make certain lunch items the night before or do “prep” work to shorten my lunch making time in the mornings.
- Plan it. Have your kids lay out their entire outfit (even under garments) the night before, that way if the tennis shoes were left out in the yard, they can return safely inside before the sprinklers come on. This rule alone saves us lots of panic and drama in the morning — two things no one needs any time of day.
2. Sleep Well
Lack of sleep is a serious health risk that the majority of school aged kids are suffering from today. Inadequate sleep leads to changes in metabolic mechanisms, decreased brain function, inability to focus, hormonal abnormalities, depression. It can effect a child’s growth, personality and put them at higher risk for other diseases later on in life like: Type 2 diabetes, heart and lung disease, obesity, hyperthyroidism and chronic pain. The good news is lack of sleep is somewhat easy to remedy. Here’s how:
- Stick to set bedtimes. Structure, both day and night is key to good sleep. Set your child’s waking time and bed time to be the same everyday, seven days a week. Begin by selecting at a wake up time that allows time for a healthy breakfast and time to get dressed and ready for school (usually an hour to hour and a half pre departure time). To determine an appropriate bedtime, calculate back 9-12 hours depending on the age and specific needs of your child.
- Turn it off. Turn off anything with a light screen (computers, i-anythings, Nooks, Kindles, televisions, Xbox) within 2-3 hours of bedtime. If you have older children that do homework on a computer, make it a house rule that they must complete that work right when they get home from school. For my 10 and 12 year old, the school week means absolutely no electronics of any kind and no TV. They have to schedule computer work time with me based on their specific school assignments. The light of the screens as well as the activity, especially a tense video game, stimulates the brain. Use of these devices within 2-3 hours of bedtime signal a reduction in hormones like melatonin. It’s also important to cut out ambient light or night-lights and place alarm clocks on the opposite side of the room facing the wall. Studies have proven that light exposure at night for as little as 4 weeks, increase cytokines, which causes inflammation. Studies have also linked nighttime light exposure to increased risk of Leukemia in children.
- Dedicate a workspace. Do not allow children to do homework or “work” in bed. This sets them up for a future hard to break habit and sends the wrong message to the body. Prepare a dedicated workspace for them with plenty of room to lie out their materials, free of distractions and clutter. This includes bedtime reading where they are reading to themselves. Have a designated reading chair or create a comfy, fluffy place with fun floor pillows (just ensure they have a good light source). Another useful tool is to have a writing pad for them by their bed if suddenly they remember something to do for the next day or have a spontaneous idea, they can note it and have it the next day with little stimulation to their brain.
- Get physical. A busy body during the day leads to good rest throughout the night. Know and evaluate your kiddo’s activity level everyday. If they have a day when they didn’t run around the play ground for 30 minutes or have PE class, have an after school activity plan to provide vital exercise. Be ready for action with jumping rope, jumping jacks, riding bikes, walking the dog, jumping on the trampoline, playing basketball, dancing to music they select. Get them moving. They will rest better, sleep better, grow better. and feel better. Optimal time for exercise is at least 2-3 hours prior to bedtime.
3. Eat Well
It all begins with “Breaking the Fast,” i.e. breakfast. Study after study shows one of the greatest ways to increase health is by eating a nutritious breakfast within one hour of waking, containing lean proteins (eggs, quinoa, hemp hearts, nut butters, plain non-fat yogurt) accompanied by organic berries and fruits and pure water to drink. It doesn’t take much time to prepare, and the healthy rewards are well worth it.
Skip all pre-prepared, packaged “oatmeal” labeled cereals, pop tarts, bars, and bologna. The chemical cocktails in the ingredients list tell the rest of the story. Also, keep cereals to less than 7 grams of sugar per cup (dude, that’s still a lot) and free of high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, GMOs, and artificial dyes. There should be no numbers and all capital letters in food labels, i.e.: BHT. Breakfast shouldn’t come with a health risk. Benefits of a healthy breakfast include: better performance in cognitive skills; better ability to focus; reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity; and overall improved performance. Starting the day with a good breakfast also leads to better food choices throughout the day.
Just as we “Learned Everything We Needed to Know in Kindergarten,” these three keys open doors to health and wellness, no matter what grade we are in. After all, kids learn most from the ultimate teacher, the one right under their own roof.
Wishing you a joyful, healthy and successful school year.
Holly Pellham Davis is the founder of Clean Fresh Living, Inc., a service focused on educating consumers and families on the importance of healthy, organic, sustainable living for life and generations to come. You can hear more from Holly on herClean Fresh Living blog, twitter, and Facebook.